The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is a bit of an enigma. It has jurisdiction over environmental, energy, and science policy, but its Republican leadership is largely made up of climate deniers. Specifically, 17 out of 22 Republican members, or 77 percent, deny that climate change is occurring or that humans are the cause, despite overwhelming support from the scientific community that says otherwise. This probably comes as a relief to the fossil fuel industry, which altogether has given the Republican members of the committee $3,418,079 in career contributions.
So it is easy to be skeptical of how the committee’s next hearing — this one titled “A Factual Look at the Relationship Between Climate and Weather” — will look. Scheduled for Wednesday, it will be held by the subcommittee on Environment, which is led by known climate-denier Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT). The hearing has no description other than its title, and has three scheduled speakers; two of whom adamantly deny that there is proof that climate change has any effect on extreme weather events, and that humans have anything to do with it.
Certain aspects of the link between climate change and extreme weather events is still a hotly debated issue in the scientific community. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report was unclear on whether there was a pattern suggesting an increased frequency of hurricanes and tornadoes due to global warming. But the connection between climate change and the severity of droughts, floods, wildfires and heavy rainfall is clear. The relatively conservative IPCC warns of increased heat, drought, deluges, and sea-level rise — all the direct result of man-made global warming.
As Climate Progress’ own Joe Romm has pointed out, it is all but certain that warming-driven sea level rise makes storm surges more destructive, and that increased water vapor in the atmosphere from increased sea surface temperatures leads to five to ten percent more rainfall and increases the risk of flooding.
As for Hurricane Sandy, there’s little doubt that global warming worsened its impact. In particular, a September study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers found “climate-change related increases in sea level have nearly doubled today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood recurrence as compared to 1950.”
A closer look at the speakers scheduled for Wednesday’s hearing shows that not one has a steadfast belief in the relationship, assuring that the hearing will misrepresent the actual discourse and opinions of the scientific community.
The first speaker scheduled is Dr. John R. Christy, a professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Christy has testified before Congress before about the link between climate change and extreme weather, arguing that “climate models over-react to greenhouse gas increases.” From his testimony, he will say that droughts will happen “with or without human causation,” and that it’s getting colder: “If one were so inclined, one could conclude that the weather that people worry about (extreme cold) is getting worse in the US.”
This is par for the course for Christy, who has criticized the use of climate models, saying “they really can’t prove anything,” and they are “scientifically crude at best.” Christy wrote a chapter (titled “The Global Warming Fiasco”) in a book published by the Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. He also stuck by, for a decade, some seriously bad analysis of satellite data that he insisted showed none of the global warming that suface temperature data did.
The next speaker is Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., the professor and director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, who Climate Progress has written about extensively. In his last testimony submitted to Congress, Pielke said “It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally. It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gas.” And though he says he believes that climate change exists and is caused by humans, he asserts that it is not a priority because “the vast majority of impacts associated with such changes that would be of direct concern to global businesses in 2013 are presently small or even undetectable at present in the context of historical climate variability.”
The hearing will also feature Rear Admiral David Titley, a meteorologist who is Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk and a former head of the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. His position has historically been that climate change is causing sea levels to rise, which he says poses a serious risk to coastal communities and U.S. security and must be immediately addressed. The only obstacle, told the Center for American Progress in a September documentary, is the “chill put on by the Republican House.”
“You can wait, but as you wait, you are trading away time, you are trading away potential options that had you done in 2014, we could have done,” Titley said. “But if you start in 2025, you ain’t gonna get there.”